Presidents' Dinner 21 st August
President Greg Chugg and 10 former presidents, as well as an assortment of the crème du Society, assembled on Friday 21 August for the annual President's Dinner. The venue was the new home of the William Blue Dining School, in premises known to most members as the original Rockpool site in the Rocks, and the walk up the ramp to the tables at the rear brought back memories for many. In general, the evening did no disgrace to its famous forebears.
Although we were in semi-seperate rooms, there was ample opportunity for interaction and addresses from the divide, the formal parts being, mercifully, kept to a minimum. The wait staff, and the hands in the kitchen, came from students at the School, and they handled a 5-course meal, plus canapes, very well, with just one qualification.
The arriving members were greeted by a welcoming glass of 2002 Pol Roger vintage champagne, reliably good with plenty of mousse and yeast to give interest, despite inevitable bottle variation. The accompanying canapé was simple, freshly shucked rock oysters with a dipping sauce for those who wanted it; a safe and extremely welcome choice.
A 1st entree appeared as a fine strip of ceviche, or raw marinated, kingfish with a little heap of shredded fresh spanner crab, finely sliced radish and a citrus dressing. The last tended to dominate against the wines, but the presentation was great and the flavours well balanced otherwise. The matching wines were a 2008 Barnes Buecher "Steingruber" riesling from Alsace and a 1994 Tyrells Vat 1 semillon. You could (and many did) quarrel with the matching of 2 wines of such different styles and age, but each was a good example in itself, the foreigner initially a bit simple but developing in the glass, whilst the Vat 1 showed a deep gold colour, plenty of Hunter toast and good , if thinning, fruit.
The next course was anything but fowl: a lightly smoked and succulent breast of spatchcock served with a confit leg with just the right amount of salt and falling off the bone, bright red chunks of compressed watermelon, a puddle of cauliflower puree and a rich pepper jus. Delightful, as were two accompanying burgundies, both in top condition: a softer, pleasantly fruit-dominant 1er cru Vosne Romanee "En Orveaux" 1996 from Sylvan Catthiard; and a more complex, deeper Grand Cru Corton "Clos du Roi" from the same year, from Moillard.
And so to the main course: unctuously done beef cheek with a potato puree, horseradish cream baby turnip and fennel crisp, in a shiraz jus. It sounded great, it looked and smelled great – but oh dear, the creamy parts in particular were cold, as was the plate on which it was served, casting its influence over the whole meal. It made the dish somewhat stodgy and hard to finish, despite the obvious thought and care which had gone into concept and preparation. Spirits were lifted somewhat by a couple of classy shiraz: a Guigal Cote Rotie 2007, and a Seppelts St Peters 1998. The age difference again was apparent; the Guigal was a well-balanced wine but needed more time to show its mettle whilst the Oz, rich mature and even porty in style, was at its best.
The cheese course featured a red Leicester when the hoped-for Pyengana cheddar was not available, and the gap was obvious. Pleasant but not startling, it was served with some crisp lavosh, dried fruit and quince paste, all workmanlike, but not up to the wines served with it: Wynns John Riddoch Coonawarra cabernet of 1996 and the Ch Haut-Batailley from Pauillac in Bordeaux, of the same year. The French opened a little stinky but improved in the glass to a lovely example of the more austere Bordeaux style, while the John Riddoch was all fruit, rich but with balancing tannins and acid to give panache.
To top off the food, a crumbly cherry shortcake was served with dabs of raspberry concentrate and lemon curd and a good sabayon dressing to provide moisture. It was not too sweet, and a fine match for a really good 1996 Ch Doisy-Vedrines sauternes, showing rich toffee apricot on the nose and deep sweetness of mature fruit on the palate, balanced by drying tobacco notes on the finish.
Coffee was not served, but a 1980 Lindemans Vintage Port was, with remarkably consistent qualities of sweet fruit and minimal rancio character, little changed each time we see it. And for those who felt the need for more alcohol to fortify them for the trip home, a shot of Gaia Barbaresco grappa: a cigar for those who could identify the grape.
A good time was had by all, as evidenced by the accompanying photos.